Sin No More

From Abortion to Stem Cells, Understanding Crime, Law, and Morality in America

336 pages

November, 2007

ISBN: 9780814719893



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John Dombrink is Professor of Criminology, Law & Society at the University of California, Irvine.


All books by John Dombrink

Daniel Hillyard is Assistant Professor of Law & Society at Southern Illinois University. The co-authors of Dying Right: The Death With Dignity Movement.

All books by Daniel Hillyard

Read the Authors' Op-Ed on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Sin No More offers a vivid examination of some of the most morally and politically disputed issues of our time: abortion, gay rights, assisted suicide, stem cell research, and legalized gambling. These are moral values issues, all of which are hotly, sometimes violently, contested in America. The authors cover these issues in depth, looking at the nature of efforts to initiate reforms, to define constituencies, to mobilize resources, to frame debates, and to shape public opinion—all in an effort to achieve social change, create, or re-write legislation. Of the issues under scrutiny only legalized gambling has managed to achieve widespread acceptance despite moral qualms from some.

Sin No More seeks to show what these laws and attitudes tell us about Americans’ approach to law and morality, and about our changing conceptions of sin, crime and illegality. Running through each chapter is a central tension: that American attitudes and laws toward these victimless crimes are going through a process of normalization. Despite conservative rhetoric the authors argue that the tide is turning on each of these issues, with all moving toward acceptance, or decriminalization, in society. Each issue is at a different point in terms of this acceptance, and each has traveled different roads to achieve their current status.


  • Sin No More is superbly written, moving across each topic with freshness and sensitivity.”

    —Jonathan Simon, author of Governing through Crime: How the War on Crime Transformed American Democracy and Created a Culture of Fear

  • “In this elegant and nuanced account, Dombrink and Hillyard explore how the depth of America's commitment to liberty and individualism has co-existed oddly with the forceful anti-libertarianism of the religious right. Their analysis of the bedrock values that America cares most about has important implications beyond the specific issues the authors address, making this an important resource for anyone wishing to understand the evolution of the national conscience, and its influence upon law and politics.”

    —Roger Magnusson, author of Angels of Death: Exploring the Euthanasia Underground

  • Sin No More represents a brilliant interweaving of the complexities of economic interests, public opinion, court and legislative action. The authors demonstrate the impact of these forces in understanding the recent normalization of gambling and the steady progress in gay rights. They show there are also early signs of achieving death with dignity and freedom for stem cell research, but access to abortion is increasingly in jeopardy. This book is sure to have a major impact on debate, research and policy in these areas.”

    —John F. Galliher, co-author of The Criminology of Edwin Sutherland

  • “Despite the intense culture wars and the ascendancy of religious and cultural conservatism over the past forty years, Dombrink and Hillyard demonstrate that there has also been a marked increase in tolerance for behavior long thought to be immoral. The process of change has been uneven and episodic, a process the authors term ‘problematic normalization.’ But there has been substantial change. The authors’ findings are counter-intuitive. But they are convincing. This is an important book, and it should find a wide audience.”

    —Malcolm M. Feeley, co-author of Judicial Policy Making and the Modern State

  • “Worthwhile for the careful, nuanced studies of specific questions that continue to define contemporary US life.”